Could Iran's Ultra-Tough Concrete Withstand Bunker-Busting Bombs?

Exploding Concrete

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Iran may not impress us with its flying saucer drones, but the country does at least one thing better than anyone else: Make concrete. Iran is in an earthquake zone, and its engineers make some of the world's toughest building materials, which could conceivably withstand small earthquakes.

Or, as it happens, artificially-induced earth shaking. Like from bombs.

Apparently our own defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is worried that American bunker-busters may not be able to penetrate Iran's deepest bunkers, especially considering Iran's smart ultra-high performance concrete. The Economist explains how Iranian concrete mixers dope their material with quartz powder and special fibers, which allow the concrete to withstand higher pressure and remain rigid even in shaky conditions.

High-performance concrete can be used for plenty of legitimate, peaceful purposes, like constructing safer bridges, tunnels and dams, making stronger sewer pipes and even soaking up pollution. And Iran is far from the only country looking at tougher concrete — a few years ago, MIT scientists studied how nano-deformations in concrete can destabilize it, and examined how silica fumes could improve concrete recipes.

But a special concrete designed to survive shaking could also be used to protect secret underground nuclear facilities from attack. Iran has at least considered this use, having studied their souped-up concrete's ability to withstand steel projectiles, the Economist says.

This is especially worrisome in the face of rising tensions amid "loose talk of war," as President Obama put it Sunday. Here's hoping Iran's concrete will not be put to the test anytime soon.